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DEP: Gas company failed to address methane leak for years

A gas company has failed to address a Moreland Township methane leak from a well drilled in 2011, according to the state Department of Environmental Protection.

Meanwhile, the alleged offending company said they believe the methane is naturally occurring.

DEP acquired a court order Monday requiring Range Resources, of Fort Worth, Texas, to fix the gas well and another hole — made in operating errors when the well was reopened in 2016.

The well was drilled in Feb. and March 2011, and by early 2012, during an inspection, DEP said they discovered the presence of methane and pressure in the well due to a faulty concrete pad.

Despite numerous warnings by DEP and complaints of discolored water in groundwater-fed wells, officials said Range Resources has failed to adequately stem the leak.

“We have attempted to resolve this in good faith but after numerous attempts, the operator still has not completely addressed these violations,” said DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell. “We expect companies to abide by our environmental laws and regulations and they must be held accountable if their work results in violations that negatively impact our environment,” he said. “Range Resources’ refusal at times to accept responsibility and finally address this problem is unacceptable and that is why DEP is issuing this order.”

In Sept. 2013, DEP informed Range Resources again of the leaking well, “but the operator refused to accept responsibility and correct the defective cement.”

Eventually, Range Resources installed treatment systems on 11 water supplies, which had elevated levels of dissolved methane, according to DEP.

“In a June 2015 letter, DEP notified Range Resources of its intent to assess a civil penalty. The operator appealed the letter before the Environmental Hearing Board, but also submitted a remedial plan to DEP’s satisfaction, so DEP did not assess the penalty,” said the release.

Range Resources has routinely failed to eliminate the impacts of the methane leaks from the gas well on the groundwater and streams, according to DEP.

But the gas company said they “strongly disagree” with DEP’s order that suggests the well impacted local waters.

“We have worked tirelessly to fully cooperate with both regulators and nearby residents for years despite extensive third-party studies and analysis that determined the methane in the groundwater is naturally-occurring,” said Mark Windle, manager of Corporate Communications.

In drilling some wells for drinking water, residents found that they bore into the Burkett and Marcellus Shale formations, he said.

Before drilling gas wells, in 2010, Range Resources tested the water in a 2,500 radius of the potential well site. The study included 19 water wells on 17 properties and found pre-existing methane concentrations, he said.

Additionally, despite Pennsylvania being one of the few states with no water well construction and maintenance standards, and Range Resources officials believing themselves not at fault, they provided bottled water to area residents, he said.

Range Resources’ cooperation has been “sporadic,” however, said McDonnell, “which will no longer be tolerated.”

“Through a rigorous investigation, DEP has determined that Range Resources is responsible for the leak and must take corrective actions as outlined in this order, which seeks to resolve this environmental issue once and for all.”

Failure to comply with the order could result in additional enforcement actions, said DEP officials.

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